Usually, when a disaster is tackled, quantitative measures are being used to describe its impact- from mortality rates to financial loss. However, the picture is fully painted when qualitative measures are included. This objective was fulfilled this morning when our group was privileged enough to hear a first-hand account from a patient bearing the Minamata disease. When he was yong, he started experiencing weird tingling sensations and uncontrollable movements from his body. He was then diagnosed with “Strange Disease”- the term adopted for the combination of symptoms observed to be prevalent in Minamata at that time. Doctors were not sure yet of the pathophysiology of the disease hence the vague term. The disease not only affected patients physically but also psychologically. He had difficulty achieving rapport with his co-workers as well as meeting a lady for marriage. They all had reservations with approaching him due to the unsupported fear that his disease might be contagious.
It was very nice of the patient to share his story even though he evidently had difficulty in speaking. Recalling such devastating moments could sometimes be difficult for victims but he selflessly shared his so we may learn about his life and that we may grow sympathy and inspiration to help the underprivileged like him and to prevent similar unfortunate events from occurring in the future, especially since we are expected to be future leaders.
After which, we visited Soushisha’s Minamata Disease Museum (水俣病センター 相思社 水俣病歴史考証館) then we did a walking tour throughout the spots relevant to the issues revolving the Minamata Disease- Hachiman Waste Pool (八幡残渣プール), Hyakken Drainage Outlet (百間排水口), Minamata Bay Reclaimed Land (水俣湾埋め立て地), Tsubodan (坪段) and the Fisherman’s Village at Modo（茂道). Despite the rain, we enjoyed the tour because it made us feel like being in the actual scenarios. It was nice to have seen commemorative cenotaphs, signifying how people have not forgotten the victims even with 59 years past the recognition of the disease. All in all, today made us feel the complexity and gravity of the problems caused by the irresponsible behavior of Chisso Corporation. If only they admitted their negligence and if only the government acted fast, then the problems and the costly measures taken to solve them would not have been necessary.
Author: Angeli Guadalupe; Figure by Joanne Khew; Photo taken by Minamata Unit 2015; Contributors: Mahdi Ikhlayel, Heng Yi Teah, Joanne Khew